This might sound a bit outlandish or ridiculous, but I seldom write loops nowadays. What I have found is that just about every programming language includes a set of methods, or applicable functions that can replace just about every loop that I was previously writing. These higher-order functions are called map, filter, and fold.


The map function takes a function you provide and iterates over each item in your list, applying the function you provide and putting the result in the same spot in the new array. Since map takes an array and returns an array, you can chain together your map calls and transform your data incrementally.

Baby steps

We’ll start off with some easy examples:

That didn’t hurt too much, did it? In the first map, we essentially applied f(x) = 2x to each element in the sequence. Likewise, the second map applied f(x) = x² to each element. Easy cheesy.

Learning to crawl

Here’s an example of mapping over an array of objects:

In the first map we are pulling out each person’s name, their age in the second map, and their second hobby in the third map. If what is happening here isn’t immediately apparent to you, here is the same thing in an imperative style:

Crazy, right? What we can do with a single expression with map, takes FOUR lines with imperative code. Oh, and did you notice the fact that we did not mutate the value of the original array in the imperative example? This is also true for map, which is important since we might need to do other things to that original array.

Up and running!

Alright, “this is child’s play”, you say. Where are we REALLY gonna use map? Well, buckle up! Check out this real world example: This example is straight outta polysvg, albeit cut down a bit for brevity. This map chain takes an array of six zeroes and performs the following steps:

  1. Numbers each spot according to its index
  2. Multiplies each position by 60 to get the angles of each vertex from the centroid of a hexagon
  3. Converts each angle to radians
  4. Converts from polar to Cartesian coordinates
  5. Rounds these nasty floats
  6. Applies an offset to each point equal to the radius

Without annotations, this is about nineteen lines of code.. Most importantly, it works and you can try it out yourself.

When should I use map?

Since map has a 1:1 relationship between the number of things you put in and the number of things you get out, you should use map when you want to transform x amount of things into x amount of other things. If you need to turn x amount of things into x - 5 amount of things, map might not be the ideal solution right away. You may need to segregate your things into subsets, and then map each subset separately.

JavaScript is the worst! What other languages have map?

Like, all the good ones. Though the names might be a bit different. In an effort to avoid plagiarism and only write what I really know about, I’ll list out a few equivalent methods/functions here.

Language Function/Method
C# IEnumerable.Select (as part of System.Linq)
Python map
Haskell map
PHP array_map
MongoDB $project (as part of an aggregation pipeline)

Alright, I’m convinced. When do I start?

Right now! Go! map all the things!
The best way to get familiar with map is to just start using it.